Sunday, September 24, 2017

Wyoming All-State Band auditions, 2017

It's All-State time here in Wyoming, and I just put together an instructional video for all of you brave auditioning souls out there. Here it is, and the notes that follow are a review of what I'm demonstrating in the video:

You can download all three excerpts (two for flute, one for piccolo) and scales here. Scroll to the end for the optional piccolo excerpt. Some tips and resources, which I also touch upon in the video:


Etude #1: The accents create a sense of a march style here, and clean technique is clearly on display.


  • The spaces between the notes must be even, and all fingers must move as a rhythmical team to avoid "flams" or accidental grace notes.  Practice rhythms can help: turn each triplet into 





                           and 





to force the fingers to get to different notes cleanly and quickly.  Always practice with a metronome, and insist on 10 perfect repetitions in a row before moving on to the next tempo.

  • When slurring from E to F#, you can use the alternate F# fingering (RH 2 instead of RH3). This fingering is flat, so only use it in fast technical passages like you have in measure 13.
  • Each phrase has a clearly marked dynamic, and they must all sound different.  Map out your dynamic range on a single stable pitch: piano is the quietest sound you can make with a focused sound and excellent pitch, mezzo piano is one obvious notch louder, mezzo forte another step louder, etc. Fortissimo should still be in tune. To get louder, you drop your jaw (it should naturally go down and back at the same time) in increments for each louder dynamic. Conversely, to get quieter, your jaw will come up and forward slightly, like saying "oooo".
  • Accents should be produced with a firm tip of the tongue right where the back of your front teeth meet the roof of your mouth (where most people say "two"), and plenty of fast air behind the sound. If you find that you are cracking on these accents, drop your jaw a little bit and aim your air slightly lower into the headjoint.


Etude #2: This lovely, mournful ballad measures your ability to sustain a phrase and play expressively.  Good breathing capacity along with efficient air use, clear tone, and flexible vibrato are your goals.

  • Practice breathing out-of-time: with the metronome on, play a phrase in time, then give yourself two full beats to breathing, completely filling up from the bottom to the top, then play the next phrase in time, etc. After doing this for a week, limit yourself to one beat of breath, then finally, breathe in time. Continue to mimic the sense of fullness you had when you were taking two luxurious beats to breathe. 
  • If q=60 is too slow for you to play beautifully, start by practicing at the slowest comfortable tempo you can do, then gradually slow it down in increments. You haven't perfected a tempo until you can play in tune, with clear tone and dynamics ten times in a row. 
  • Be sure your vibrato depth/speed matches your volume--shallow and slow for piano, deep and fast for forte. Practice whole notes crescendo from piano to forte, then decrescendo back to piano ("diamonds") and experiment with your vibrato to fill up, but not go beyond the borders of, your sound at every volume. 
  • As with etude #1, map out your dynamics
  • It should go without saying, but...PRACTICE YOUR E-flat MINOR SCALE!
Piccolo Etude: You will be judged on beauty and continuity of sound, clean fingers (of course), and control of pitch. The fingers should be easier than flute etude # (use the 10x rule for all woodshedding), but sound can be more challenging on piccolo. Some thoughts:
  • Play the piccolo like you play the flute: keep your throat open, tongue relaxed, and some space between your back teeth like when you say "ah". Use fast spinning air like you do for flute.  This will ensure that all of your notes speak evenly and have depth.  Beauty of sound can be practiced like you practice it on flute, with long tones, "diamonds", and octave slurs. 
  • Your piccolo is not as acoustically "correct" as your flute, so you'll have to do more to control pitch.  Learn your tendencies with a simple "Pitch Tendency" sheet.  Turn on your metronome, and once you've tuned to an A, play and hold every single individual pitch, from low D to high F. Write down your specific tendency on that note (like "+20" or "-10"). Then take notes on what you have to do to get it in tune.  You should not need to roll in and out drastically, which hurts sound quality. Instead, drop your jaw to get flatter, or pucker to get sharper. In the context of this etude, you will know where to blow each note so that they are all in tune. 
Scales: Visit my blog post, "Tips for Creative Practice" to keep things fresh (and accurate).

Good luck, and enjoy the process!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tips for band directors

I always encourage band directors to keep in touch and ask questions whenever they are struggling with their flute sections; I think that we, as flutists, can offer a crucial lifeline to our colleagues in the public schools and advocate for the best practices on our instrument.  I cannot imagine the pressure of standing in front of a band and having to make everyone sound great on all of their various instruments all by myself; no one person can be the expert on everything. That's where a cadre of instrumental experts helps everyone involved.

These are some materials I have shared with my colleagues in Wyoming and NoCo over the years and I hope it is helpful in some way; feel free to share this information with your own colleagues, wherever you happen to be as you read this.  And band directors, remember: we want to help you help your students to love the flute (and piccolo) the way we do.  We're all on the same team, so call us when we can help!

Equipment

Move to an open-hole flute as early as possible (if hands are large enough, it is possible to start on one).  Off-set G is preferred over inline for the health of the left hand.  Pitch is generally better on a B-foot, rather than a C-foot, flute.   Flute prices range wildly, but in general, you get what you pay for.  The following brands are recommended because they are built on good scales, construction is sturdy, and they tend to hold a repair for a long time.

Recommended Brands, in order of preference--flutes:
            1. Altus/ Azumi (Azumi is made by Altus)
            2. Muramatsu
            3. Trevor James
            4. Yamaha

Recommended Brands, in order of preference--concert piccolos
            1. Resona by Burkhart
            2. Pearl PFP105-E
            3. Yamaha YPC-62

Embouchure practice aid: Pneumo Pro Wind Director, www.blockiflute.com

Resources

Online:
Accurate fingering charts: www.wfg.woodwind.org
Breathing exercises: Breathing Gym Playlist on YouTube
Purchasing flute music, instruments, and accessories: www.fluteworld.com 
Flute repertoire guides, practice tips, and history: thepedagogyproject.pbworks.com
Information on summer festivals, competitions, and conferences: www.nfaonline.org
Overcoming performance anxiety, general inspiration: www.bulletproffmusician.com
UW Flute Studio, including information on Wyoming Flute Day and a Wyoming state flute teacher directory: sites.google.com/site/wyoflutes/home
Dr. Riner’s home page: www.nicoleriner.info

Highly Recommended Exercise Books:
Trevor Wye, Practice Book for Flute, Omnibus Edition (Published by Novello)
            °Includes sections on tone, technique, breathing, articulation, scales, and more

Tips for Great Flute Playing
A hand-out for high school flutists by Dr. Nicole Riner
Visiting Assistant Professor of Flute, University of Wyoming

1.  Try to stand whenever you practice the flute, and face your feet, hips, and knees 45º to the right.  Then swing the upper half of your body to face the music stand.  This prevents arm fatigue and makes it easier to fill up with air. 

2. To fill up with air, deliberately sense the temperature of the air in the back of the throat.  This triggers the lower half of the lungs and makes the lungs expand from the bottom first, where they are larger and more pear-shaped.  Notice that the three lowest ribs are “floating” and not attached in the front like the rest of the ribs.  Let the floating ribs go outward in a 360º circle. 

3.  When tonguing say “tu” or “du”, not “whoo” or “pu”.  The tip of the tongue should hit just behind your front top teeth to lightly interrupt a fast, constant stream of air.  After each “tu” the tongue tip should rest lightly behind the bottom teeth, ready to strike again.  Keep the mouth cavity open and relaxed with the tongue resting on the floor of the mouth when not in use. 

4. To sustain the tone with a rich, full sound, use the “belt trick”.  Fill up with air and pretend you have a belt around your middle that is WAY too big for you. Make the imaginary belt taut by pushing out all around in a circle, and keep the imaginary belt taught the whole time you exhale into the flute.  This engages extra abdominal muscles that help control the exhalation. 

5. Move the lip corners forward as you go higher on the flute so that the center of the lips moves gradually closer to the far side of the blowing edge.  To go lower, open your mouth by putting more space between your back teeth and pointing the air down into the hole, which will be les covered.  Keep your corners loose and relaxed at all times.  Don’t roll the flute inwards or outwards to achieve different octaves or pitches, but make your lips do it instead. 

6.  To tune, push the headjoint in to make the pitch higher (sharper), pull the headjoint out to make the pitch lower (flatter).  When you are in a good place and the majority of your notes are in tune, remember that spot and put your headjoint there every time you put it together.  Remember that cold flutes will always be flat until they warm up; you can speed up the process by blowing some hot air into the headjoint before checking your tuning. 

If you find that you go flat when playing softly or sharp when playing loudly, use your embouchure:
For forte: Put more space between your back teeth, pull the upper lip downward, and aim the air down into the flute.
For piano: Bring your lips forward into a pucker and blow more across the hole, still using fast air speed. 

7.  Always line up your headjoint so that when you play your flute, the tops of the keys face the ceiling.  The first key should be lined up with the embouchure hole in the headjoint. Your pinky keys should be easily reachable—adjust where you put your footjoint to fit your hand.  Your right hand thumb should act as a shelf to hold that side of the flute, while the left side is held in place by your chin (with only gentle pressure, no pushing!) and the lower part of your index finger of your left hand. 

8.  When assembling or disassembling your flute, don’t place your hands on the keys, rods, or levers.  Place your hands on the sturdy and smooth parts of the tube only.  It’s very easy to bend the thin keys and rods, which will keep your flute from working smoothly and accurately. 

9.  Always swab the flute out with a handkerchief or silk swab after playing. This dries the pads and protects them from wear.  Always gently wipe fingerprints off the body to preserve the finish of your flute; you can use a handkerchief or microfiber cloth.

10.  Practice things that are challenging, like octave slurs and fast, clean scales, every day!  Stay curious and seek good role models in professional flute players and recordings.  Take lessons from a reputable flute teacher in your area if possible, or email me for in-person or SKYPE lessons. 


Nicole Riner ©2016



Thursday, September 7, 2017

Announcing my Flutist's Expression Workbook!

...just in time to combat the back-to-school obsession over All-State auditions and marching band shows! This book has been a two-year labor of love and I will continue to update and improve it with your feedback. I've just released A Flutist’s Expression Workbook, appropriate for junior high through adult students. The Workbook utilizes exercises from 19th Century vocal method books as a vehicle for developing beautiful, flexible tone and more creative expression in playing. Vocalises are presented with two sets of expression markings followed by text meant to lead the student through the musical effect of the markings as well as specific instruction on how to perform those markings effectively. There is also an unadorned copy of each vocalise for students to mark for themselves as they explore their own musical creativity. Supplementary material includes four duets, arranged from their original operatic settings, for flutes and piano, and piano accompaniment to all vocalises. It's available in print edition (spiral-bound) or digital download, which also includes .mp3 files of select accompaniments to play along with and extra "blanks" of each vocalise for your musical marking pleasure!

You can read more about it, view sample pages, and order at this link. I'll be updating that page with supplementary videos of me teaching some of the vocalises throughout the fall. Please feel free to share this information with colleagues and students, and thanks for helping spreading the word!